MAN OF THE MOMENT
One of the first to collaborate with celebrities in creating and endorsing his à la mode collections, businessman and brand behemoth Tommy Hilfiger continues to ensure his place in the Zeitgeist.
Tommy Hilfiger continues to ensure his place in the Zeitgeist.
Aseminal New York Times article about red pants describes them as uniforms of Nantucket vacationers, or British toffs. To illustrate the story, there is a photograph of Tommy Hilfiger walking down a runway in his signature red pants, waving to the crowd – the kid from small-town Elmira made good, the one who plucked out elements of east-coast WASP, mixing it in with rock’n’roll (more evidence on that later) to concoct his own unique brand of prep-pop. And now here he is for the Vogue interview on the Saturday morning following his New York fashion week runway show, dressed in red pants with a white shirt and white sneakers, the very embodiment of TH-officiated weekend living.
Hilfiger himself doesn’t identify immediately as a fashion designer, as he tells me himself. “I’ve become more of a businessman, because I’m really overseeing more than just the creative side.” In his memoir American Dreamer, he writes of knocking on the doors of New York’s Garment District looking for a fashion design job, only to be rejected for a lack of design background and credentials. Having never obtained a degree in design, his skills lay in merchandising and retailing.
In a then controversial move, Hilfiger unveiled a billboard advertisement in 1986 for his newly formed brand, in which he compared himself to the great designers of the era: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis. “This was a wildly audacious opportunity to jump the line,” recalls Hilfiger in his memoir – the billboard ad “definitely jet-propelled” the label’s momentum. But here, 30 years on, is what he wants to talk about. “This, right now, is really the most dramatic, exciting time,” he says. “There’s the buy-now-wear-now, the presence of social media, and the consumer wants immediate gratification – they want the experiences and they want the fashion now.”
He’s referring to his runway show, which presented a collection that was available for purchase immediately, rather than being available in stores as much as six months later. “The biggest changes have been getting people to keep up,” he says. “Within the company, outside, retailers – everybody. But we strongly believe that we need to lead this charge, and change.” Hilfiger also appointed Gigi Hadid as a design collaborator. “She’s an iconic pop-culture figurehead,” he says of his decision to open up the design studio to her. Pop culture and celebrity progeny has
“YOU NEED CONTENT THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT-BASED SO THE CONSUMER COMES TO YOUR SITE AND STAYS THERE”
long been ingrained in the weave of TH. In 1995 he appointed Kidada Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones, as part of his creative team, tasking her to help with the design and styling of his campaigns – including one where she enlisted her friends, Aaliyah and a then unknown Kate Hudson to star alongside her. Later, celebrities like Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Usher were selected to front campaigns. “When we started using celebrities in our advertising and marketing nobody else was doing that. And our marketing and advertising people, said: ‘What?’” he says, laughing at the memory.
Hadid had led the charge at the runway show in front of 2,000 guests, backdropped to a TH-themed carnival of fairground rides, food stalls of lobster rolls and pizza, arcade games and more. “We want riots! We want food, we want vintage shops, tattoo parlours – people may think we’re a little crazy doing that, but I really believe in being ahead of the curve.” Hilfiger is fascinated by the TH experience – the carnival was left open on the weekend to the public, and our conversation eventually moves into technology, which really gets him going. He reminds me of the label partnering with Facebook and Snapchat for the runway show extravaganza.
“In China, over 60 per cent of consumers under 30 years are shopping via mobile app – so that tells me something,” he informs me. “But you need more than just clothes on your site or on your app; you need content that’s entertainment-based so the consumer comes to your site and stays there, so venturing into the entertainment world is important.” But for his imminent plans? He answers triumphantly. “Artificial intelligence,” he begins, expanding on to tell me how TH will soon incorporate machinelearning and big data to predict consumer behaviour. Beyond fashion, he’s also recently bought the iconic art deco Miami hotel the Raleigh. He and his wife plan to transform it into a private club and expand the concept internationally. “I see beauty in design. Whether it’s a chair, or a shirt.” Or, an entire brand.
Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid with models in his designs.
Tommy Hilfiger’s carnival from above. The entrance to the fashion show. Hilfiger and Hadid on the runway. Models in Tommy Hilfiger autumn/winter ’16/’17. Taylor Swift was front row. Show notes on the seats Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger at the runway finale. Pieces from the Tommy Hilfiger autumn/winter ’16/’17 collection.